How often should you have one?

DoctorWomen should talk with their clinician about when and how often they should have a Pap test. Current general guidelines recommend that women have a pap test at least once every three years, beginning about three years after they begin to have sexual intercourse, but no later than age 21. Experts recommend waiting about three years after the start of sexual activity to avoid overtreatment for common, temporary abnormal changes. It is safe to wait three years because cervical cancer usually develops slowly. Cervical cancer is extremely rare in women under age 25. Women who have had a hysterectomy (surgery to remove the uterus and cervix) do not need to have a Pap test, unless the surgery was done as a treatment for precancer or cancer.

The Pap test should not be done when a women is menstruating. If her period started on the day of the test, she should call the doctor right away and reschedule the appointment. For about two days before the Pap test, she should avoid douching or using vaginal medicines or spermicidal foams, cream or jellies. These may wash away or hide abnormal cells. Also, a woman should not have sexual intercourse for one to two days before a Pap test, because this may cause unclear results. After the test, she can go back to her normal activities and return to work right away.

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